This week we’re featuring a new chapter from Ann Aguirre’s Like Never and Always every day on our blog at 3PM EST from Monday, June 4 to Sunday, June 10. Keep track of them all here, and dive in to chapter four below! Like Never and Always will be available July 17.
On a hot summer night, Liv, Morgan, Clay and Nathan are on the way home from a party in Clay’s convertible. Best friends dating brothers? It doesn’t get better than that. But the joyride ends in sudden impact, a screech of brakes, and shattering glass. On that lonely country road, four lives change forever.
Liv wakes in the hospital. At first she’s confused when they call her Morgan, but she assumes it’s a case of mistaken identity. Yet when the bandages come off, it’s not her face inthe mirror anymore. It’s Morgan’s.
Morgan always seemed to have the perfect life. But as Liv tries to fit herself into Morgan’s world, she discovers endlessly disturbing secrets of the criminal and murderous variety and a dark task to finish…if she doesn’t lose her mind first.
Forced to confront the disturbing truths that Morgan kept hidden in life, Liv must navigate a world of long-buried murder, a dangerous love affair—and a romance that feels like a betrayal.
[dropcap type=”circle”]T[/dropcap]wo days pass in a pain-fogged haze. Because I don’t want to deal with any of this, I’m constantly maxing out my meds, and they leave me in a dreamy stupor. But the nurses are wise to this bullshit, and they fill my tubes with weaker doses until it’s not enough to conk me out.
We make progress, medically speaking. Since they give me no choice, I get up and move around. For so many reasons, this is beyond bizarre. I’m too tall and my legs feel wrong. I used to be five feet two. Nathan’s pet name for me was “pixie,” and I didn’t even mind when it came from him. Before, I had a sporty build leftover from when I did gymnastics, brown eyes, and auburn hair. I got lucky and escaped the freckle gene that left my mom looking like fairies had an orgy on her back at summer’s end. All of that added up to cuteness, though Nathan always insisted I was beautiful.
My breath emerges in a sigh so strong it’s almost a whimper. The nurse’s gaze snaps up to mine in alarm because she’s messing around down south. “You all right?”
“This isn’t my best angle,” I mumble.
She laughs. Then the catheter comes out—talk about a burning sensation—and I get praised a while later for making urine on my own. It’s inspected for blood, but apparently I’m okay in that department. Clumsily managing my IV stand, I shuffle back to bed and fake-Morgan through visits from Clay and Mr. Frost. The whole time, I have one thought on loop: I need to set everyone straight. I have to.
But . . . I’m scared.
I’m so scared.
The rational part of my brain insists they won’t believe me. Mr. Frost will call in the most expensive psychologist he can find and they’ll call this shock or denial. I can hear it now—It’s understandable, your best friend is gone, and you’re having trouble accepting reality. If I persist in my claim that I’m Liv, not Morgan, they’ll decide I’m delusional. Then I go into treatment with a patient, pipe-smoking, tweed jacket–wearing intellectual type. If I stick with this story, I’ll end up in a posh facility populated with troubled rich girls.
At two in the morning, I stare at the clock, listening to the muffled sounds of the night crew doing their checks. Are my parents awake? Crying? At least they have my little brother, right? Jason has always been a good kid, and I hope he takes care of them while I figure out how to fix this. It’ll be so hard if I meet them before I work out what to do. Picking up the phone, I trace the fingers over the numbers that make the landline ring at my house. What would I say?
Mom, it’s me. Everything is so messed up, and I want to go home.
But she’d hear Morgan’s voice, not mine. I’ve noticed that as my throat recovers from the tube, I sound more and more like her. There’s no evidence apart from my word. Quietly I put the phone down without dialing. For two more days, I follow instructions and speak little. Surely emotional withdrawal is natural under these circumstances. I suspect that’s how Morgan would grieve anyway. She never liked showing weakness or admitting when she needed help. I remember finding her surrounded by a two-foot wall of crumpled paper, eyes aflame with frustration because she couldn’t get her self-portrait for art to turn out right. I ended up drawing that picture for her. Funny, she was so good at faceless sketches of elegant figures wearing incredible outfits, but her own features stymied her.
Where’d you go, Morgan? Why did you leave?
That night, Nurse Pink Pants, though today she’s in violet and turquoise, brings news as I’m rearranging the food that should be labeled Bland Diet. “I went over your chart with Dr. Jackson last night, and he’s agreed to discharge you in the morning.”
She seems to be waiting for a response.
“Cool,” I mumble.
The nurse seems underwhelmed with my enthusiasm as she leaves.
I should be excited. Nobody wants to stay longer than absolutely necessary in a hospital, even if they’re really ill or injured. This is why wealthy people pay for in-home care, something Mr. Frost has been pushing for since the beginning. I’m sure he thinks it’s strange that I’m not begging to come home and recover in a more familiar and welcoming environment. The truth is, I’m only delaying the inevitable because I can’t ever go home.
This is underlined and punctuated with an exclamation mark when Mr. Frost comes in, trailed by my wan-faced parents. Oh, shit. Pain flares in my temples as I stare at them. It’s like looking directly into the sun when you already have a migraine. They look at me, so washed in sorrow that they can’t even smile.
Because I’m a reminder of their loss. Mr. Frost’s daughter made it while theirs didn’t. Yet because they’re good people, and they know Morgan was my best friend, they’re here. They’re making the effort.
“You’re looking much better,” my mom says. Her eyes are red rimmed and her hair looks as if she put it up in a ponytail a week ago and hasn’t taken it down since.
“We were here before you woke up,” Dad adds.
“Thanks,” I whisper.
My overwhelming instinct is to babble everything out, dump it at my parents’ feet and let them fix it. There’s nothing they can’t set right because they’re amazing, and they’ll recognize their own daughter even in someone else’s skin, like a weird changeling or whatever the hell I am. I know things only someone from our family could; I can tell the story about how Jason pooped in the cat box when he was two. That’s proof, sort of. Maybe they’ll listen? Words fill my throat like vomit but I swallow them down because this is beyond a rock and a hard place. It’s incomprehensible. The cold voice of reason reminds me that a mental health professional will say, Liv told you that story, Morgan, so you incorporated it into your delusion. Staring at my parents, I waver.
What if hearing this hurts them more? It’s more painful than a clean break . . . because I can’t be Liv again. Her body is indisputably in the ground.
As I frame that thought, the shakes set in. It hurts so much that I can’t breathe properly, and each inhalation smells like copper, as if I have blood in my nostrils. I imagine my flesh and bone in the casket, below layers of dirt. The macabre impulse sparks—I should dig it up to see for myself, only that won’t solve this problem. It’ll only convince my parents and Mr. Frost that there’s something terribly wrong with Morgan.
I never thought I’d feel so grateful to Clay but when he strides in, my heart settles. This isn’t the time. I can’t confess with Morgan’s boyfriend in the room, so he’s taken the onus off me. Plus, Mr. Frost would definitely give my parents trouble, even if they believe me.
So whatever I decide to do, I have to plan it well, and the clock is ticking. Tomorrow I start truly living Morgan’s life.
Copyright © 2018 by Ann Aguirre